A Call to Censor the Religion Blogosphere
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Mar 02, 2010 at 07:48:40 PM EST
Some time ago, I filled out a survey from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in connection with an academic study they were doing of the religion blogosphere. Talk to Action is not exactly what I think of as a religion blog, but it is not exactly not a religion blog either. In any case, I filled out the survey, and sent it in.  The survey was part of an interesting Ford Foundation-funded study, The New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere which has just been published.

It is a worthwhile read for those who are interested in the role of the blogosphere in religion in public life, academia and journalism.  Several people,including me, were asked to briefly comment at the SSRC's blog, The Immanent Frame. You can check out our comments  here. Most of us talked about what blogs have meant for our work, for writing, and even for religion. But significantly, the first thought from the editor of the blog First Thoughts, was to say that religion bloggers really ought to be subject to ecclesiastical authority.   First Thoughts is the blog of the religiously neoconservative journal, First Things.

Before we get to Carter's first thought, here is part of the introduction to the study itself: The New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere

Blogs have given occasion to a whole new set of conversations about religion in public life. They represent a tremendous opportunity for publication, discussion, cross-fertilization, and critique of a kind never seen before. In principle, at least, the Internet offers an opportunity to break down old barriers and engender new communities. While the promise is vast, the actuality is only what those taking part happen to make of it.

This report surveys nearly 100 of the most influential blogs that contribute to an online discussion about religion in the public sphere and the academy. It places this religion blogosphere in the context of the blogosphere as a whole, maps out its contours, and presents the voices of some of the bloggers themselves.

Among the studied hundred are the Daily Kos-affiliated Street Prophets, as well as Killing the Buddha (co-founded by Jeff Sharlet, best known to those following the various scandals related to the "C Street house" as the best selling author of book The Family), as well as the atheist Pharyngula the pagan The Wild Hunt, as well the journalistic (and religiously diverse) Religion Dispatches, and a broad range of blogs affiliated with academic, religious, and news organizations.

Blogger Richard Bartholomew appreciates the religion blogosphere's role in promoting the "democratization of knowledge." But of course the democratization of anything tends to make some uncomfortable. And so Joe Carter rightly suspects that most religion bloggers will disagree that their writing should be subject to higher religious authority; but here is the nugget of his argument:

Despite their importance, there is no council, diocese, presbytery, or synod that oversees and sanctions these religious blogs. But should these bloggers be able to teach large audiences without oversight from a higher-level polity? If a professor and ordained minister at a Presbyterian college writes regularly on issues about religion and theology, should her writing be exempt from denominational authority? Or what if a Lutheran layman and a Catholic priest hold a regular open debate? Should they not be held to account as if they were writing in a denominational magazine or journal?

According to the SSRC study, the Vatican is worried about all this as well:

"...high-level meetings at the Vatican have discussed how blogging is shaping the conversation about Catholicism and have even suggested the idea of issuing guidelines for Catholic bloggers. "In the past, the church's educational efforts included helping people decide what they should or should not watch," said one archbishop. "Now it must also help them decide what they should or should not produce"--including, he added, what they post on the Internet (Wooden 2009). Daily dispatches from Vatican correspondent John Allen's All Things Catholic blog, together with the more gossipy Whispers in the Loggia, are part of a blogosphere that lends a new degree of transparency to a hierarchy more accustomed to an older media environment. The kind of discourse available on less judicious blogs has already made a strong impression on the curia. "I have been appalled by some of the things I've seen," said Roger Mahoney, Cardinal of Los Angeles, about the blogosphere, adding: "Of course, I've been the object of some of them.""

Of course, most American religious individuals and institutions have no such censorious impulse. But that does not change the fact that religious rightism may not only express itself via blogging (as it already does), but will be considering how to silence bloggers with whom they disagree.

At Talk to Action, as I mention in my comment about the report at The Immanent Frame, we take a different view:

Our featured writers come from a variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds and represent a range of progressive political perspectives. But we all write from the standpoint of recognizing the importance, as well as the historic and constitutional significance, of religious pluralism and the separation of church and state. It is this unity of perspective about the nature of the threat to these values from the Religious Right that animates our conversation and gives structure to how we learn from one another...

Even as we think and write critically about the Religious Right, we seek to do so without resorting to unfair labeling and demonization tactics. In this way, we seek to model effective civic --and civil-- discourse. We embrace a common understanding that we all share the same rights, but that the religious supremacism of most elements of the Religious Right is a threat to the rights of all.

It was really just a matter of time before the theocratically inclined began to cast wether eye at the blogosphere. And that time has come.

The great beauty of separation of church and state is that it allows for people of many different and opposing religious views to peacefully coexist while fully embracing their individual beliefs and practices.  The loss of separation threatens to force our diverse religious heritage into coerced and bland homogeneity.  It is my hope that progressives will return to a defense of religion through the defense of separation of church and state, as opposed to the compromises which have recently ceded so much ground to those who desire religious uniformity.  

As Thomas Jefferson stated,

"Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth."  

by Rachel Tabachnick on Tue Mar 02, 2010 at 09:05:41 PM EST

Talk2Action has already been partially responsible for exposing various nefarious schemes being run by the dominionists.  For instance, this blog is indirectly connected with exposing an attempt in Florida to use the state tax offices for soliciting funds for Dobson's organization.  There have been other examples of this that the people here can probably remember.

It's no wonder they would like to prevent our voices while emphasizing their own- because as long as we tell the truth about them, they have a much harder time succeeding in taking away freedom.

We may be a lone voice crying out in the wilderness, but as long as we keep crying out, truth is spoken.  That is important.  Every time we expose a theocratic move, we're doing more than protecting our own interests- we're actually protecting the rights of those who would take ours away.

We are indeed a threat to them... and as long as blogs like this (and walkaway groups and support groups for other religions and so on) remain free, we will continue being a threat.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Mar 02, 2010 at 10:12:19 PM EST

Mr. Clarkson,

I long ago stopped taking anything you say seriously. You've proven time and again that you interpret everything that you disagree with as a sign of the dominionist impulses of the religious right. That schtick was tedious, stupid, and boring years ago (the last time I read this blog) and hasn't aged well since.

But your latest remarks are so silly and yet so emblematic of your misguided approach that I had to comment. The fact that you think a Baptist like me is concerned because, as I say, religious bloggers are "acting like Baptists" shows that you don't even bother to think anymore.

Since you've been criticizing my work for years I had assumed that you might be familiar with what I might actually think on the subject. But that would give more credit to your skills at reasoning and reading comprehension than you've ever exhibited as possessing.

You could save your readers a lot of trouble if you'd just set up a script that excerpts quotes from those you disagree with and automatically inserts, "This is what the theocrats think!" That would be more intellectual than the drivel you usually write.

by Joe P Carter on Thu Mar 04, 2010 at 03:29:19 AM EST
Maybe Frederick comprehends all too well?

Did the truth sting a bit???

Mr. Carter.. I am a walkaway.  I've experienced the TRUTH of dominionism first hand.  Never again.  And arguments like yours (1) deny ME freedom of religion- according to the laws of this country I have the right to worship and believe as I see fit, and if you don't like it, tough.  (2) deny me freedom of speech- if what I've learned isn't to your liking, well, maybe you should think about it and remember that those "founding fathers" weren't theocrats and would NOT have supported the theocratic movement of today in any way.

I've heard all the arguments from the "religious right"- shoot, I USED TO USE THOSE ARGUMENTS!!!  I was dead wrong, and now I realize it.  What is sad is that I've experienced persecution from the "Religious Right"Dominionists because I no longer buy the lies.

It's not fun being the subject of a hostile megachurch sermon because I spoke out for the truth.  It's even less fun to have people pressure me HARD to "not make waves".  It's also quite painful to be driven out of a church because I wouldn't accept the dominionist takeover of that church- or their false teachings (such as creationism"Intelligent Design") being espoused in that church!!!

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Mar 04, 2010 at 09:23:27 AM EST

Apparently Mr. Carter, who works for a neoconservative think tank whose anti-democratic, theoconservatism has been well documented by former insider and First Things editor Damon Linker, does not like being accurately quoted.

I don't recall mentioning Carter any more than once or twice in anything I have ever written, so I make no claim to be broadly familiar with his beliefs beyond my ocasional encounters with his  published words.

In any case,  Mr. Carter's invasion of this site to post an ad hominem atttack provides us the opportunity to accurately quote him further.  He thinks that denominations should clamp down on bloggers because:  "Whether they are Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant, when it comes to religious discussions online, all bloggers act like Baptists."    

Readers can check it out for  themselves.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Mar 04, 2010 at 04:17:35 PM EST

Act like Baptists???  Say WHAT???

Well, if it's the old-fashioned Baptists who recognized that separation of church and state preserved religious freedom, then maybe- and that would be a good thing.  If he's talking about the present steeplejacked denomination/denominations, he couldn't be further from the truth!!!

(But then, my experience is that dominionists are liars- and when they tell the truth it's to support a lie!!!)

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Mar 05, 2010 at 09:31:21 AM EST

Any requirement to submit religion blog posts to censorship of central religious authorities would have to come from -- and be enforced by -- those authorities themselves. And would therefore only apply to those who accepted that authority. For those of us whose religious affiliation imposes no requirement to submit to a higher religious authority, what would Joe Carter have us do? Refrain from posting? Which leads me to wonder -- who signs off on Joe Carter's posts? Who is taking responsibility for him?

by Khalila RedBird on Sat Mar 06, 2010 at 06:50:30 PM EST
I was just going to make the same points!

Darkness in any form - and surely any attempt to deny people their GOD-GIVEN right to freedom of conscience is darkness - fears the light of truth. I'd love to have someone from the far right side of Christianity acknowledge that I have the right to preach and practice according to my understanding of the Gospel as guided by (very Wesleyan) Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason just as they have that same right. Alas, the further to the extreme one is, the less likely he/she is to acknowledge anyone else's vision of faith.

Joe Carter and folks like him who would impose limits on dialogue fear the light that is coming from what amounts to a second Reformation - only instead of the printing press, this time it's the Internet.

by RevRuthUCC on Sun Mar 07, 2010 at 10:28:42 PM EST

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